I have many ideas in my story that readers do not see . . . at least not the first time they read the books. Have I been too subtle? Wouldn’t it save pages leaving those out if no one sees them anyway? How subtle is too subtle?
First, I had a couple subtle themes in my first book that I had to make more obvious. It was important for readers to pick up on why Symon was acting this way and what he wanted. Readers said the book meandered and didn’t have a point until halfway through. Part of that was me being a new author, and part was me not making it clear what Symon’s goals were. He was just living and trying to stay alive and not be smothered by overprotective parents.
Now, I have added a few lines of dialogue and a couple thoughts here and there to show that Symon’s wants are more complicated. He wants to be a great king (like his father and like Ralan), and that drives his actions in book 1. He is faced with a decision whether to continue persecuting animal shifters or to treat them like equal citizens. Trust his uncle, or trust his tutor? This decision is the key behind book 1. We can’t have books 2 and 3 without it.
Was the first version of the book wrong? It was too subtle, but not wrong. Sloppy, perhaps. Readers shouldn’t have to think so hard to find a main theme/plot.
On the other hand, another subtle idea in the books is a shifter’s different magic. Depending on the pov, a character’s thoughts will be about truth and lies or harm or direction. Readers have told me it was neat that I included cardinal directions in the details all the time, but that it doesn’t actually help them visualize the setting better. I replied that I only include “north” and “east” and “54 miles” and such because that’s how Symon thinks. He has a constant map in his head. He doesn’t think about whether a person is standing on his left; he thinks about whether the person is standing on the south or west of him.
Should I make this idea more obvious, too? I say no. It’s not necessary to the plot, and it’s there to add a richness to the world and characters. It wouldn’t feel rich if I hit readers in the face with it; it would feel showy.
My conclusion? Magic system stuff can be subtle. Character driving motivation stuff should be less subtle.
What are some subtle ideas you have read/found? What are some subtle ideas you have written?